Calvin Weaves Minorities Tapestry

    GRAND RAPIDS — Calvin College’s Tapestry program hopes to take a collaborative approach to attracting and retaining minority students by weaving together the sometimes disenfranchised pieces of a university education.

    With a three-year, $61,000 Select Student Support Services (4-S) grant from the state of Michigan, the program will blend together mentoring, goal-setting, academic assistance and leadership development from several college divisions to create a strong fabric of support for Calvin’s minority students.

    The 4-S grant is renewable for three years, during which time Calvin will work to institutionalize the Tapestry program.

    The state program, which aims to increase the graduation rate of academically and economically disadvantaged minority students currently enrolled in either a public or private four-year university, provides seed money to foster institutional change, some of which Calvin has received for several years.

    “Calvin has had a very long history of 4-S grants,” said Claudia Beversluis, dean for instruction at Calvin, who will oversee the program in its infancy. “It’s been terrific the way that the state’s interest in supporting the retention of minority students has dovetailed with Calvin’s strategic interests.”

    The grant will also enable Calvin to hire a project coordinator who will bring together Tapestry’s many threads. Barbara Omolade will begin in February as the dean for multicultural affairs and will oversee the entire Tapestry program.

    Over the past few years, Beversluis said, Calvin has offered several services to multicultural students and economically disadvantaged students in a somewhat fractured manner that clearly needed a stronger coordinating structure.

    The goal of Tapestry is not only to keep students at Calvin, but also to help them thrive academically, socially, vocationally and in leadership. To accomplish those goals, the program will bring together those existing Calvin programs that already are attracting and supporting minority students.

    There are five main elements to Tapestry: Entrada Early Start, the customized portfolio, the Nexus Mentorship Program, the Tapestry leadership seminars and the Tapestry awards ceremony.

    “Our strategic plan includes efforts toward attracting and retaining minority students,” said Beversluis.

    Entrada Early Start will allow Tapestry to begin its mentoring of minority students before they even attend college. The early start program is a new component of Calvin’s already established Entrada Scholars Program, an intensive summer course for high-achieving ethnic minority high school students, identified through Tapestry, who do not maintain the 3.0 grade point average required for Entrada admission to participate in the program.

    “Entrada is very rigorous,” said Rhae-Ann Booker, Calvin’s director of pre-college programs. “It’s a 14-week semester course in three-and-a-half weeks.”

    Booker believes the pilot program will demonstrate that students who have a lower than 3.0 GPA will be successful in that summer course, and that it will positively affect them at Calvin.

    Tapestry students also will compile customized portfolios that outline their academic, vocational and leadership goals and plans.

    Through the Nexus Mentorship Program, students will be paired with upper-class students, faculty and staff members and other mentors. They also will attend Tapestry seminars, sponsored by various college offices and organizations, geared toward goal setting, career strategies and leadership development.

    In their third year of participation, students will attend the Tapestry awards ceremony as a validation of their progress in the program and a transition to their graduation years.

    Tapestry’s cross-divisional approach was necessary for building a strong minority presence on Calvin’s campus, said Shirley Hoogstra, Calvin’s vice president for student life.

    Over the next three years, Beversluis said it is her intention, as well as Omolade’s, to solidify the program and show its importance with retention numbers, something the state looks at when allocating funding.

    “We are grateful to the state for seeing this as a priority,” said Beversluis. “During the three-year term we start with the $61,000 this year and then decrease each year. In the end the college is expected to pick up the funding. But in order to continue receiving some assistance, we need to keep those retention numbers up, and we think this program will help with that.”   

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